Coeliac disease (pronounced see-liac) is a lifelong autoimmune condition that affects 1 in 100 in the UK but only 24% of people have currently been diagnosed which means there are nearly half a million people who have coeliac disease but don’t know it.
In coeliac disease, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues when gluten is eaten. Different areas of the body can be affected and symptoms vary from person to person. The treatment for coeliac disease is a strict gluten free diet for life and getting diagnosed and following a gluten free diet is key to reduce the risk of health complications developing. These include anaemia, osteoporosis, neurological conditions such as gluten ataxia and neuropathy, and although rare there's an increased risk of small bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma.
Here’s a list of 10 signs of coeliac disease so if you are experiencing any of these symptoms or have any of these conditions see your GP who can carry out an initial blood test to check for antibodies produced in coeliac disease. Do not start a gluten free diet or remove gluten containing foods from your diet until you have completed the testing for coeliac disease.
- Ongoing gut symptoms like feeling sick, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pain, cramping or bloating.
- Feeling tired all the time
- Unexpected weight loss
- Severe or constant mouth ulcers
- Unexplained iron, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency
- If you have type 1 diabetes or autoimmune thyroid disease you are at a higher risk of coeliac disease so testing is recommended, even if you don’t have any other symptoms.
- If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it is important to make sure that you have been tested for coeliac disease. The symptoms can be similar and 1 in 4 people with coeliac disease have previously been treated for IBS.
- If you have a first‑degree relative (parent, sibling or child) who has coeliac disease you should be tested. There are specific genes involved in developing coeliac disease so the risk of having coeliac disease rises to 1 in 10 in families.
- Unexplained infertility or recurrent miscarriage may also be associated with coeliac disease so testing should be considered
- Unexplained neurological symptoms (such as loss of balance, uncoordinated movements, numbness and tingling in the hands or feet) may also be a sign of coeliac disease, and testing should be considered.
If the initial blood test for coeliac disease is positive, your GP will refer you to a gastroenterologist or a paediatric specialist (in the case of your children) who can carry out further testing to confirm the diagnosis. Throughout testing, it is important to continue to eat a normal diet that contains gluten (such as bread, pasta and breakfast cereals) to make sure that the test results are accurate.
If you’re still a little unsure, you might find it useful to take the Coeliac UK online assessment for coeliac disease. This short self-assessment will take you through the symptoms of coeliac disease and other risk factors (www.coeliac.org.uk/isitcoeliacdisease ).